Polenta

Polenta has undergone a sequence of modifications since its birth, several thousand years ago.

Polenta’s name was originally derived from puls, or pulmentum which first names were given to the dish that was the center of the Roman diet. In its earliest days, polenta was made from grain usually millet or spelt, a primitive form of wheat, or Cece bean (a.k.a. garbanzo bean, chick pea) flour. Polenta was not made from corn until hundreds of years later; corn itself was not introduced into Europe until 1650.

Pulemntum was the staple cuisine of Roman soldiers, whose field ration consisted of two pounds of grain. The soldiers would toast the grain on a hot stone oven fire, crush it, and store it in their haversacks. When they stopped and constructed a bivouac, the soldiers would grind the grain to a gruel-like consistency, and boil it to form porridge. The soldiers would consume it in this form, or allow it to harden into a semi-leavened cake.

Though a consistent diet of this sounds rather bland to our thoroughly seasoned tastes, this victual served to nourish the presumably ravenous appetites belonging to the conquerors of the ancient world.

As time passed, the basic ingredients involved in the preparation of polenta changed as well: millet and smelt were replaced by barley. When popular tastes agreed that barley was too bland, it was substituted with the ancient grain far, which was more palatable type of wheat than smelt.

Curiously enough, polenta, when allowed to harden on a hot stone served as the first bread. What we identify today as bread was unknown in ancient times largely because of two reasons: First, technology did not allow for grain to be ground fine enough for flour. As milling methods improved, the crushed grains of pulmentum were processed into farina – the first genuine flour.
Second, yeast, the ingredient necessary when making bread was very difficult to acquire, and exceedingly expensive; for in those times, it was grown primarily in Gaul. If we were to travel as far back as the centuries immediately preceding Christ’s birth, yeast was most often made from residual dough which had been allowed to ferment.

To manufacture genuine flour was still very tedious, and polenta remained the preference of aristocrats and towns people alike. Small amounts of flour were purchased by Roman aristocrats who could afford the luxury, and was used to powder their noses! As life allowed more specialization in fields of occupation, The Roman Empire’s first professional cooks emerged, and the dish began to take a variety of different forms.

Preparation standards
Polenta is cooked by simmering in a water-based liquid, with other ingredients or eaten with them once cooked. It is often cooked in a huge copper pot known in Italian as a paiolo. Polenta is known to be a native dish of and to have originated from Friuli.Boiled polenta may be left to set, then baked or fried; leftover polenta may be used this way. Some Lombard polenta dishes are polenta taragna (which includes buckwheat flour), polenta uncia, polenta concia, polenta e gorgonzola, and missultin e polenta; all are cooked with various cheeses and butter, except the last one, which is cooked with fish from Lake Como. It can also be cooked with porcini mushrooms, rapini, or other vegetables or meats, such as small songbirds in the case of the Venetian and Lombard dish polenta e osei. In some areas of Veneto, it can be also made of white cornmeal (mais biancoperla, then called polenta Bianca). In some areas of Piedmont, it can be also made of potatoes instead of cornmeal (polenta Bianca as well).

The variety of cereal used is usually yellow maize, but buckwheat, white maize, or mixtures thereof. Coarse grinds make a firm, coarse polenta; finer grinds make a creamy, soft polenta.

Polenta takes a long time to cook, typically simmering in four to five times its volume of watery liquid for about 45 minutes with almost constant stirring, necessary for even gelatinization of the starch. Some alternative cooking techniques are meant to speed up the process, or not to require supervision. Quick-cooking (cooked, instant) polenta is widely used and can be prepared in a few minutes; it is considered inferior to cooking polenta from unprocessed cornmeal and not ideal for eating unless baked or fried after simmering.

Mario Batali‘s Italian restaurant Babbo. The differences in taste between instant polenta and slow-cooked polenta, and describes a method of preparation that takes up to three hours, but does not require constant stirring: “polenta, for most of its cooking, is left unattended…. If you don’t have to stir it all the time, you can cook it for hours—what does it matter, as long as you’re nearby Cook books  has described a method using a microwave oven that reduces cooking time to 12 minutes and requires only a single stirring to prepare 3½ cups of cooked polenta, and in March 2010 presented a stovetop, near stir-less method, using a pinch of baking soda (adding alkali), which replicates the traditional effect. While suggested making it in a polenta maker or in a slow cooker.

Cooked polenta can be shaped into balls, patties, or sticks, and then fried in oil, baked, or grilled until golden brown; fried polenta is called crostini di polenta or polenta fritta. This type of polenta became particularly popular in southern Brazil following northern Italian immigration.

Health & wellness facts:  Polenta
Polenta is a staple food of northern Italy, though it is not as well-known as other Italian mainstays such as pasta. Polenta is made from ground yellow or white corn that has had the germ removed. Polenta can serve as a main feature of a meal, as a side dish or as a dessert because of its smooth texture. It can be baked, boiled, fried or grilled, and it has a neutral flavor profile that makes it simple to adapt to your personal palate.it also is very desirable with pastry chefs because of it palatable properties .

Portion Sizes
Polenta can be used in many different ways, which can make it challenging to control portion sizes. A 3 oz. serving size of polenta cooks up to 335 calories.

Carbohydrates
Each 100 gram serving of polenta contains almost 69 grams of carbohydrates. Polenta is a complex carbohydrate, meaning that it rests low on the glycemic index and takes the body longer to digest, according to Health and Nutrition Tips. In fact, polenta’s carbohydrate content is almost entirely complex carbohydrates, with only .6 grams per serving existing as sugars.

Protein
A standard serving of polenta has slightly more protein than a large egg. Each 100 grams of dry polenta cooks up into a serving that contains 8.1 grams of protein . For those not eating eggs or meat, it can be an alternative protein resource.

Vitamins and Minerals
Polenta is a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Each 100 gram serving offers up 10 percent of the RDA for vitamin C and six percent of the RDA for vitamin A, according to Health and Nutrition Tips. Polenta also contains 152 mg of potassium, 220 mg of phosphorus, and 42 mg of magnesium per serving, Trace amounts, less than 1 milligram per serving, of iron, zinc, thiamin, and niacin can also be found in polenta.

A Gluten-Free Choice
Polenta does not contain gluten and can be used by those seeking an alternative to pasta as a base for their favorite Italian dishes. Polenta counts as one of the grains and starches that are allowed in a gluten-free diet, according to MayoClinic.com. Others use polenta as a replacement for garlic and Parmesan breads to accompany meals.

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